If you’re someone who’s been lifting weights for a while, you know that getting bigger and stronger requires a lot of hard work and heavy weights. But as you get older, heavy lifting can take its toll on your body. That’s where blood flow restriction training comes in. This training method, which uses pneumatic compression to partially restrict blood flow to the limbs during exercise, has been around for decades, but it’s only recently gained popularity among athletes and gym-goers alike.
The idea behind blood flow restriction training is simple: by partially restricting blood flow to the muscles you’re working, you can stimulate muscle growth without using heavy weights. This is because the restriction of blood flow creates a low-oxygen environment in the muscles, which tricks the body into building muscle. It’s like lifting heavy weights, but with a fraction of the load.
The history of blood flow restriction training dates back to the late 1960s, when Dr. Yoshiaki Sato created the KAATSU training method in Japan. The original goal of KAATSU was not to build muscle, but rather to prevent age-related diseases such as diabetes. The method partially restricts blood flow from the heart to the limbs and fully restricts blood from the limbs to the heart, putting the muscles in a low-oxygen environment during exercise.
Since then, blood flow restriction training has evolved into a popular training method among athletes and gym-goers alike. The KAATSU technology, which applies a slightly different approach to blood flow restriction, has been studied on more than 12,000 individuals to ensure safety and efficiency. Its effectiveness has caught the attention of NFL and NBA teams, NASA, the Navy, and even the Department of Defense.
So how does blood flow restriction training work, exactly? According to Janelle Fleites, a physical therapist, partially restricting blood flow “causes a build-up of metabolic waste, further causing metabolic stress. This build-up triggers a physiological response that is proven to stimulate muscle growth.” In other words, the restriction of blood flow creates metabolic stress in the muscles, which signals the body to build muscle.
One of the biggest benefits of blood flow restriction training is that it allows you to build muscle without using heavy weights. This makes it a great option for anyone who wants to get stronger and bigger but may have limitations due to injury, age, or other factors. In fact, some studies have shown that blood flow restriction training can be just as effective as heavy lifting when it comes to building muscle.
Another benefit of blood flow restriction training is that it can help reduce joint stress. When you lift heavy weights, you put a lot of stress on your joints, which can lead to injury over time. By using blood flow restriction training, you can stimulate muscle growth without putting as much stress on your joints. This makes it a great option for anyone who wants to maintain muscle mass without overexerting their joints.
Are Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) Bands worth the investment? Although research on this method is not extensive, there is evidence to support its effectiveness. A study conducted in China on 25 healthy, young men showed an increase in human growth hormone and testosterone levels after exercise while using BFR. Another study investigated the muscle function impact of vascular occlusion combined with low-resistance training in 17 highly-trained rugby players, and researchers saw an increase in muscle size, strength, and endurance. Furthermore, BFR affects everything up and down the limb, creating a systemic effect.
A 2010 study looked at how BFR impacted skeletal muscle strength in 37 healthy men between the ages of 50 and 64 years. The findings revealed that the group that used BFR had nearly as great of an improvement in leg muscle strength as the regular resistance training group and significantly higher improvement than the control group.
FDA-approved BFR units can be expensive, but they are still less expensive than an average set of adjustable dumbbells. They deliver more for less effort and may get to the desired hypertrophic effect with less strain. For busy people who want to spend a normal amount of time in the gym, efficiency is one of its primary selling points. On days when time is limited, instead of having to spend 60 to 90 minutes lifting in the gym, a 30-minute body weight or low-level resistance training session with BFR can yield similar benefits.
BFR bands are not dangerous under the supervision of a medical professional trained in the methodology. However, it is essential to consult with someone who is certified in using BFR or a healthcare professional before using it because there are contraindications that may put you at higher risk of injury. Studies have shown that contraindications are more likely with people with a history of deep venous thrombosis, blood clots, pregnancy, varicose veins, high blood pressure, or any sort of cardiovascular disease.
Both lower and upper body exercises can be done with a BFR system, and they will yield benefits. They can be worn during strength training and cardiovascular exercise as well. Anything that uses muscles will be impacted and has the potential for benefit. BFR is commonly used during injury rehabilitation or any situation in which a heavy load is not accessible. It can serve as a complementary workout in between heavy resistance training days, but it should not replace it altogether, as training with heavy weights still comes with massive benefits.
BFR bands are not the most comfortable, but they are tolerable. The wider the cuff is, the more comfortable it is. Your muscles will get fatigued toward the third and fourth set, and you may notice a change in color because of the lack of blood flow, but there shouldn’t be any issues where a patient has to stop due to too much discomfort.
In conclusion, BFR bands can be an effective addition to one’s workout routine. It’s an efficient way to build strength and endurance without having to spend hours at the gym. It’s also great for those recovering from injuries or for situations where heavy loads are not accessible. However, it’s important to consult with a certified BFR trainer or healthcare professional before using it, especially if you have any contraindications that may put you at higher risk of injury. With proper usage, BFR bands can help you achieve your fitness goals with less strain and effort.